Yes you can! This time of year is when the kooks come out. You know the ones I mean, the amateur or season gardeners that come out to take advantage of the Spring Black Friday sales at places like Home Depot and Lowes where they run the great deals on the bags of mulch. Something like 4 for $10 or maybe even 5 for $10.
So why do I call these fine bargain hunting folks kooks? It is not their frugal nature that my son despises. It is the customers that come in and want a pallet load of the bagged medium stuffed in their subcompact car. All the young men and women at Home Depot, Lowes and the rest would prefer you get your mulch loaded on the pallet into your truck or on your trailer.
We are blessed to have a neighbor with a lawn care business who also does tree work. Five or so years ago he purchased an industrial size chipper and began chipping the brush created from trimming or removing trees.
If you have been here before you know my past includes a stint as a greenhouse owner and the experience of growing annuals and perennials for nearly three decades. This equates to having lots of flower beds. One of the bad things about lots of flower beds is that they are a great place for weeds to grow. Circling back to my neighbor and his chipper, the result of the chipping is a low cost alternative to the Home Depot bagged mulch scenario. My neighbor brings the chips and dumps them on my property as well, so there is no transport cost.
As a deterrent to weeds and also to retain moisture for the plants we take the wood chips and use them as mulch. So there is your answer to the question. The chips are a low-cost alternative to mulch. If you aren’t blessed to have a neighbor who can provide your supply you can contact one of the tree trimming services as they do the very same thing with their brush.
The purchase of a Kubota subcompact tractor four years ago with a front bucket makes the entire process much easier on the back. Within a very few minutes I can move significant quantities of this great mulch source to where I need it. I used to either go to a business that made their own mulch or buy the bags. Then it was a matter of shoveling it out of the truck or hefting the heavy bags.
So I should be through with this post, right? Well, I am if you are not interested in the rest of the story as the great Paul Harvey used to say. There is a side benefit to mulch and the natural process of it breaking down, which is making your own compost. If you came for a highly scientific explanation I am sorry to disappoint you, but my method is more of a case of letting science and nature take its course. I learned early in my gardening experience that organic matter will break down over time. Green will turn to brown as the nitrogen escapes and brown to black with time. Such is the nature of mulch.
How do I make the compost? Well, as I stated before you really can’t, but nature can and will even if you would prefer it did not. You see the decomposition is aided by the elements of nature, sun, wind, rain, snow and human traffic across the mulch in the beds.
We are in the midst of redoing some of our beds where a few years of mulch application has developed into a rich mix of natural almost potting soil. It is like consistency of dirt atop our heavy duty, professional grade landscape fabric left over from my greenhouse business days.
One of the new pivots we have chosen to make this year is to move our tomatoes and perhaps another vegetable or two out of the garden into raised beds. My plan is to repurpose the rich soil we are shoveling out of our beds to fill the raised bed containers. We will need a significant amount of something to fill the raised beds. My thought is to put mulch in the bottom of the raised bed to take care of some of the bulk needed, since it will eventually break down anyway and then put the richer mix on the top where the plants will draw the nutrients.
This is not something I have done before, so I cannot declare 100% that it will work, but the science seems sound. However, I can provide an anecdotal piece of evidence however. Last summer I took some seeds from a blackberry lily that were still left from the previous growing season and buried them in a portion of this decomposed mulch. They germinated within a reasonable short period of time..
Frugalness should not be a virtue people turn into derision. We are supposed to become smarter and wiser as we age, and I claim that as what this is. I invite you to come back as I chronicle the success or failure of this idea.